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Costello Commentary: Coming Together to Answer Climate Change

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2017-08-14

As seen in the Times-Argus: https://www.timesargus.com/articles/answering-the-climate-challenge/

This week saw yet another disturbing climate change report in the news—this one authored by U.S. Government officials—highlighting the grave danger humanity faces from climate change. To answer the challenge, we will need leadership, entrepreneurship and creativity. That creativity is all around us in Vermont.

We will celebrate that creativity at the “Catalysts of the Climate Economy” National Innovation Summit (ccecon17.com) on September 6-8 in Burlington.

At the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) we are highlighting the need to address climate change and at the same time revitalize the rural economy of the state. The problem of climate change, along with our state's affordability challenges, can be addressed through economic development that aligns with our communities, creates jobs, and strengthens our environment. Addressing climate change can be a key to rural renewal.

At VCRD we work to build unity and direction with leaders in communities throughout Vermont and construct policy dialogues to help advance community and economic development at the state level. We don’t build long lists of problems, or even lists of solutions for someone, somewhere, to implement. Instead, we work with leaders at both the community and policy level to ask: “What is in our united power of action, right here and now, that will be a lever for positive change?” 

These are tough times nationally for rural communities which have not fully recovered from the 2008 recession and see declining downtowns, fewer jobs in manufacturing and agriculture, a lowered standard of living for many residents, and, unfortunately in many places, diminished opportunities and expectations for the future. 

While Vermont is not immune from these challenges, we also see a very different narrative emerging here. We are seeing creative entrepreneurism and dynamic success in food systems, composting, recycling, the digital economy, clean energy development, and small tech manufacturing. With our strong state energy plan, innovative utilities, first-in-the-nation efficiency utility, and the creative matrix of entrepreneurs and energy businesses and their 18,000 employees, Vermont has fundamental assets that other rural parts of the country would love to have, and that give us a great competitive advantage. Let’s build on our assets and celebrate success.

There is a local, national and international competition to solve climate change; to nurture and attract businesses that will make money by developing solutions to the climate change challenge. Many of these businesses are just being invented and they will change the world. Many of these inventors will be young people with new ideas, founding new businesses in distributed energy, energy storage, smart grid, electric vehicles and public transportation, working lands, and so much more.

Vermont’s economic development strategy must be rooted in part in attracting the imagination of creative youth, serial entrepreneurs, and the investors who will fuel new innovative enterprises in Vermont.

The National Climate Economy Summit celebrates scores of these catalysts of the climate economy from throughout the country—business leaders who are changing the game, building new economic opportunities that will contribute to renewed prosperity for generations. People like keynoter Paul Hawken whose new book, Drawdown, describes the ways we can not only emit less carbon, but economically draw carbon down from the atmosphere into the soil and products for the future.  Like Jigar Shah and Danny Kennedy, who are investing in hundreds of young clean energy, efficiency, transportation, and green tech businesses. Like the competitors in the Summit pitch contest where young entrepreneurs will share their business ideas for combatting climate change for a cash prize and to gain the attention of the judge investors.

The next day will feature eight tours to see the remarkable creativity of Vermonters—from “Rutland the Solar City” to Net Zero Burlington, the green building cluster, the food systems movement and carbon sequestration in the northern tier, dynamic business leaders, distributed generation, and more. 

In fact, catalysts of the climate economy are all around us.  Every manufacturer has changed the lightbulbs, boosted efficiency, and is looking at what’s next.  The climate economy is not a sector, really; it’s the economy of the future.

Please join us on September 6-8 to help highlight and explore economic opportunities for Vermont! Register at www.ccecon17.com.

Paul Costello is the Executive Director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development which is producing the Catalysts of the Climate Economy Summit.